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These days, a Penn diploma will set you back a cool $180,000.

Wait - make that $180,044.95.

Plus tax.

If members of Penn's graduating Class of 2007 want to flip their tassels at Commencement next month, they will have to wear required regalia purchased at the Penn Bookstore.

Undergraduates rented gowns up until last year, when Penn switched to a new vendor, Oak Hall Cap and Gown. Now, $44.95 gets Penn seniors what's known in the graduation industry as "souvenir gowns."

"We found that we could offer really high-quality gowns . for a less than $10 difference," said Rhea Lewis, a spokeswoman for Penn's Business Services division.

But Penn seniors, who placed their orders at the beginning of the month, are quick to point out that they won't have much reason to own a gown post-Commencement.

"My friends and I all thought it was a pretty steep price for a gown we're never going to wear again," College senior Hillary Smith said.

College senior Reg Tigerman agreed, saying, "It's a shame I'm only going to wear it once. . It would be a nice option to be able to rent it."

On the other hand, graduate and professional students actually pay more to rent out their garb since they don't have the option of buying one.

The University still rents gowns to master's and doctoral students because the number of different degrees and programs offered at Penn - each of which requires a specific attire - could make mandatory purchases confusing, Lewis said.

She added that Yale and Brown universities, along with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have similar regalia protocals for undergraduate and graduate students.

Peter Morrison, president of Oak Hall Cap and Gown - the company Penn uses for graduation gowns - said that renting as opposed to buying graduation regalia used to be much more common.

"A lot of them [probably] end up in somebody's closet," but he said selling was ultimately easier for his company because then drycleaning is not a concern.

The company provides gowns for 1,500 colleges - including all the Ivies except Cornell University, Morrison boasted - along with 5,000 high schools and 10,000 nursery schools, which he called "a relatively new phenomenon."

"It's a little bit like being a retailer at Christmas time," Morrison said of the industry. "We work all year long for this."

Still, Smith said she didn't think the gowns for Penn undergraduates were especially nice and compared them to tents. Of course, she bought one anyway.

"When you think of graduation, you think all your friends walking around in caps and gowns," she said.

Maybe some seniors will find uses for the gowns after all; Lewis said they could be passed down to siblings.

Still, College senior Andy White, another gown owner, has a plan of his own.

"I'm thinking of using it as a Halloween costume later in life," he said.

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